March 4, 2015

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Senate unanimously votes for special referendum

Cade Belisle/Collegian

Monday night, the Student Government Association (SGA) voted in favor of having a campus-wide, special referendum vote to increase the Student Activities Trust Fund (SATF) fee in a few weeks.

The proposed referendum that will be voted on, after being passed by a unanimous vote in the SGA Senate, would increase the SATF by $14 per semester per student from $97 to $125 – a 7.5 percent increase.

The fee increase would help support the allocation of funds provided by the SGA to give more money to about 160 registered student organizations (RSO), 11 agencies and nine student governance bodies.

In a unanimous vote to conclude the meeting, the Senate passed the motion to support a special referendum vote. This will be a campus-wide vote and the SGA will spend the next two weeks making students aware of the situation.

In order for this vote to pass and then further go on to review by the Board of Trustees, 5 percent of the campus needs to partake in the vote – or 1000 students – need to vote either way for it to be considered a valid vote.

Chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee Priya Ghosh delivered a passionate plea to the Senate, asking it to vote in favor of the motion in the final half hour of Monday night’s Senate body meeting.

The committee’s reasoning for why the SATF fee needs to be increased significantly is due to the fact that past Ways and Means Committees have essentially failed to raise the fee enough to compensate for all the funding it provides to student organizations. In her speech, Ghosh explained that in the past six years, the committee has functioned with a $2.1 million budget.

In Ghosh’s presentation, she explained that some of the things that have been cut in the past, such as the Collegiate Readership Program, which provided students with copies New York Times and the Boston Globe, as well as student payroll in RSOs. The SGA has been forced to cut these programs in an effort to further stretch their $2.1 million budget.

“When an RSO can no longer receive adequate funding from the SGA, they lose effectiveness and cannot accomplish what they need to do,” Ghosh said.

If this proposed fee increase doesn’t pass, the SGA will lack financial stability to adequately fund anything because they will drop into debt by 2015.

She continued to make the appeal to the student body that “all this money goes directly back to students, whether it is in the form of an RSO or a student service.”

Ghosh concluded her speech making a direct address to the Senate.

“As senators, we talk about student power and student voice,” she said. “We are privileged to have been elected to this roll. It’s our privilege to represent our constituents. We are privileged to be here representing our constituents and our residential areas.”

Alongside Ghosh, stood Secretary of Finance Zachary Broughton and Treasurer Lindsay Vitale, both of whom also provided information in regards to the motion.

Vitale repeatedly emphasized the fact that this is a huge issue to vote on for the SGA and even as the proponent of this motion, that Senators should take their time to consider the matter.

She also commented the reality of the situation.

“This does not mean we will be able to fund everything, there will still be cuts,” Vitale said. “This is to make sure we don’t put groups into a position where they are unable to accomplish anything.”

Secretary Broughton further clarified how the money would be allocated. While some of the money would be used to ensure the SGA doesn’t further dip into its long-term funds or go into debt, a majority of the money would be used to allocate among RSOs and services that need more adequate funding.

The fee increase wouldn’t only help RSOs, but more money would be allocated to organizations like the University Programming Council, the Student Legal Services Offices (SLSO) and student payrolls within respective student groups.

Ghosh explained that in order to keep both costs for spring concert down for students, but still attract big name artists that students will be excited to see, the organization needs more adequate funds to offer bigger stars to come play in Amherst.

In an interview after the meeting concluded, Broughton made it clear that the SLSO needs more funding to be a helpful student resource on campus.

“Every year they see more and more student conduct cases and as their case load increases, the funding also needs to increases to provide more money for resources and to give to their employees,” he said.

During Ghosh’s address, she also recognized the need for the SGA to need to provide more funds for SLSO.

“They are an indispensable resource for students on campus,” she said.

Broughton also said, “Without a fee increase, it will be much harder to fund leadership opportunities and guest speakers to bring to campus.”

He continued, “The increase will give RSOs more funding for advisory roles especially as they are looking to the future of their organization.”

Both Vitale and Broughton also brought up the topic that some of the funds that will potentially be raised will help fund a sober shuttle service or an alternative to students, and there will be a motion filed to ask for the Senate’s support at next Monday’s meeting.

The SGA holds its meetings on Monday nights at 7 p.m. in Room 164 of the Campus Center.

Ashley Berger can be reached at aberger@student.umass.edu.

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